Follow this Washington district’s lead on improving web accessibility

From the superintendent who posts videos on a district website to the school secretary who creates a monthly e-newsletter for parents, web accessibility is everyone’s responsibility.

That’s the approach that the Kent School District, the fourth-largest district in Washington, adopted when it pledged to improve the accessibility of its websites following a comprehensive corrective action plan with the Office for Civil Rights in 2016. See Kent School District No. 415, 116 LRP 45172 (OCR 07/26/16).

Joelle Bejarano, senior IT project manager for Kent, has overseen the district’s web accessibility turnaround. “Anyone that touches any resource that’s being distributed by our district has a role in web accessibility,” she said. “This isn’t an initiative that one person alone can drive.”

Since 2016, the district has developed a series of internal and external training sessions to promote the merits of web accessibility and explain how to create accessible content. Bejarano said the district will continue to add to these resources.

“Our district understands the direct correlation that this work has on high student achievement, parent engagement, and community involvement,” she said.

Bejarano shared steps Kent has taken to address web accessibility and offered tips for others on the same path:

1. Partner with internal and external change-makers. Four district departments in Kent — IT, Communications, Human Resources, and Inclusive Education (special education) — work collaboratively on web accessibility, Bejarano said. The special education department worked with families and students to film a video for the district’s main website on why accessibility matters and how it impacts students’ learning and quality of life. The human resources department provided information on collective bargaining agreements and the training the district could require of staff, Bejarano said. Communications staff outlined the plan for sharing information about accessibility with the school community, and the IT department reviewed the district’s online systems and devices to ensure they support web accessibility, Bejarano said.

The district has also worked with community members, OCR, the University of Washington’s accessibility office, and other districts, Bejarano said. “It’s been fantastic to hear from other districts who are going down this path, too,” she said. “My biggest advice is to network. Many organizations and other districts have robust programs, and they can share a lot of information about this.”

2. Create tiered resources for staff. Kent uses the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA as a guide, Bejarano said. The district hired a web administrator with an accessibility core competency certification to help translate WCAG 2.0 AA into actionable steps for staff, she said.

Training is tiered depending on the level of involvement a staff member has in creating and producing digital content. The district’s public-facing website includes awareness resources and basic training guides, Bejarano said. Those resources include best practice tips and technical tutorials for creating accessible materials using the applications that staff commonly use. “What you don’t see on our main website is a treasure trove of internal resources for our staff around how to ensure that [the] communication they’re putting out [is] accessible,” she said.

3. Publish a website accessibility notice. A notice on your website helps inform the community that your district is working on improving the accessibility of its websites and digital content.

Kent’s website accessibility notice includes:

  • A pledge to commit to providing access to all individuals, including those with disabilities, seeking information on the website.
  • An explanation of how to request additional assistance if necessary.
  • The district’s formal accessibility grievance process.
  • The contact information for the district’s 504 coordinator.
  • A video on accessibility training.
  • An FAQ on web accessibility and accessible technology.
  • The school board’s policy on accessible communications.
  • notice to vendors about completing a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template.

The district also designated an email account to receive questions or concerns about accessibility. “We want to be as transparent in this process as possible,” Bejarano said “We’re open to any kind of feedback as we continue to improve.”

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504 and education technology as it relates to special education for LRP Publications.

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